Mac Window Management Made Easier

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #120


Most Macs have enough RAM (Random Access Memory) to keep at least half a dozen programs open at once. I’ve got 16GB of RAM and have 21 applications open as I’m writing this. The problem is, most apps display one or more windows while they’re running and eventually my screen becomes cluttered with dozens of windows — most of which I don’t need at the moment.

As I'm sure you know, Mac OS X has included Mission Control — the feature formerly known as Exposé — since 2003. But regardless of what you call it, it’s only a partial solution for managing the myriad windows scattered across my two large displays.

In my humble opinion, the problem with Mission Control is that although it can locate a specific window, hide all windows to reveal the Desktop, and create virtual desktops to preserve window arrangements, it doesn’t offer any real control over individual windows. It tries to solve the window congestion conundrum at the macro level using an all-or-nothing approach.

While that approach can be useful — especially in conjunction with the Hide and Hide Others commands — I like even more control over individual windows. Furthermore, I feel like Mission Control was never meant for a two-display setup like mine, since it never seems to work the way I expect it to with dual monitor systems.

The bottom line is that I’ve always augmented Mission Control with one or more third-party apps that offer additional window management options.

My first line of defense against window proliferation is Hocus Focus (see Dr. Mac's Rants & Raves Episode #117). In a nutshell, it's a one-trick-pony with one darn good trick: Hocus Focus hides both application and Finder windows automatically after 3 minutes of inactivity, or you can change the delay or disable hiding completely for any app that's currently running. Best of all, it's free (with donations requested).

Hocus Focus hides windows after a specified period of inactivity.

So Hocus Focus is my first line of defense against window overload, keeping unneeded windows hidden until I need them. But there’s still another window-related issue that neither Mission Control nor Hocus Focus addresses: Arranging and resizing individual windows, specifically, arranging and resizing windows using only the keyboard.

Yes, you can arrange and resize windows with a mouse or trackpad, and for some that’s sufficient. But since I believe I’m more productive when my fingers are on the keyboard, I use an app called Optimal Layout to switch to any window in any app —hidden or not— using only the keyboard.

Optimal Layout lets me activate any window in any app using only the keyboard.

Finally, the newest addition to my quiver is Spectacle, which I heard about last week on Mac Geek Gab, which lets you move and resize windows using keyboard shortcuts. Sure it lacks some of the features in Optimal Layout, but Optimal Layout costs $14 (though it’s currently on sale for $7), while Spectacle is free (with donations requested).

Spectacle offers fewer features than Optimal Layout, but it works great and it’s free.

One last thing: I just made a donation ($10 each) to support the developers of Hocus Focus and Spectacle. If you find these apps as useful as I do, please encourage the developers to keep up the awesome work by making a small donation.

And that's all he wrote…